Jan. 6, 2009
Eric Wolford has been named University of South Carolina's running game coordinator and offensive line coach, Gamecocks' head football coach Steve Spurrier announced today. Wolford, 37, comes to Carolina following a two-year stint at the University of Illinois where he held a similar position. In his two years at Illinois, Wolford's lines have led the Big Ten Conference in rushing (2007) and passing (2008) in back-to-back seasons.
"I truly believe we have hired one of the best offensive line coaches in the country in Eric Wolford," said Coach Spurrier. "As all Gamecock fans know, we must run the ball much better than we have over the past two years. I'm really impressed by his background, especially with his success in the running game. Beginning this spring, we will make a commitment to becoming a much better running team. We are excited and pleased to have Eric join our staff."
"I'm excited about the opportunity to be a part of Coach Spurrier's staff," said Wolford, a 2008 Rivals.com Top-20 National Recruiter. "He has a great coaching staff in place with Ellis Johnson, one of the top coaches in the country, running the defense. Hopefully we can make an effort to run the ball better, win some games and work toward winning an SEC Championship."
One year after posting the Big Ten's top rushing offense, the Illini offensive line turned toward improving the passing game in 2008. Averaging 269.3 yards in the air, the Illini ranked first in the Big Ten in the category and 19th nationally. The team finished the season second in the conference in total offense with 438.8 yards per contest, which also ranked 19th in the NCAA. Illinois' total yards topped 5,000 for the just the fourth time in school history and for the second consecutive year. Three members of the line earned postseason honors for their performances. Seniors Xavier Fulton and Ryan McDonald were named to the All-Big Ten second team and right guard Jon Asamoah was honorable mention.
In 2007, Wolford's veteran offensive line led the Illini offense to 3,338 rushing yards, the most in school history, and paved the way for running back Rashard Mendenhall's record-setting season. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, Mendenhall broke school records for rushing yards, rushing TDs and total TDs in a season. The offensive line also protected quarterback Juice Williams at a record pace, allowing just 16 sacks, a school record and the second-fewest in the Big Ten. Individual honors followed, with left guard Martin O'Donnell earning Associated Press first-team All-America honors as well as first-team All-Big Ten recognition. Fulton and McDonald were named second-team All-Big Ten.
Wolford came to Illinois with 13 years of collegiate coaching experience, spending the previous three seasons with the Arizona Wildcats as offensive line coach. During that time, UA led the league in fewest sacks allowed in 2004 and was second 2005. Wolford tutored two All-Pac-10 performers on the offensive line in Peter Graniello and Eben Britton, who also was named a Sporting News All-American in 2006. In addition to his strong coaching skills, Wolford was an integral part of Arizona's back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes.
Wolford spent the 2003 season at North Texas, where his offensive line paved the way for tailback Patrick Cobbs. He rushed for a league-record 1,690 yards, earning the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Award. Cobbs averaged 152 yards and 11.5 points per game, leading the NCAA. The offensive line blocked for a rushing average of 177.5 yards per game, which ranked 35th nationally, allowed only 18 sacks during the season and posted an 88 percent efficiency rating in the redzone. For their efforts, two Mean Green linemen, Andy Brewster and Nick Zuniga earned first-team all-conference honors. Wolford also helped lead UNT to its third-consecutive bid to the New Orleans Bowl.
Before joining North Texas, Wolford enjoyed three-year stints at both Houston and South Florida. While at Houston, he coached a number of positions spanning offense, defense and special teams. In 2002, Houston enjoyed a dramatic turnaround, going from a winless season to five victories. The team also ended on a high note, defeating nationally-ranked Louisville in the finale. During that time, Wolford coached five all-conference players.
Wolford had the unique experience of coaching in the first three seasons of the South Florida football program, helping to lead the Bulls to two winning seasons in three years. In year two of the building process, the offense put up over 400 yards per game, including 191.5 rushing yards per contest. Running back Dyral McMillan became the school's first 1,000-yard rusher that year.
The Youngstown, Ohio, native began his coaching career at his alma mater, Kansas State, where he served as a graduate assistant and worked with the offensive line. From there, he spent two seasons as the offensive line and strength coach at Emporia State. Wolford was a four-year starter at Kansas State under Bill Snyder, and his teams laid the groundwork for the program's emergence on the national stage. His senior year, the Wildcats won the school's first bowl game in the 1993 Copper Bowl.
He earned a bachelor's degree in 1994 in social sciences with a focus on monetary policy and banking. After college, Wolford signed a free agent contract with Buddy Ryan's Arizona Cardinals. Wolford and his wife, Melinda, have a son, Stone, and a daughter, Marlee.
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